LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Tyson Bagent always knew it in his heart. Deep in the recesses of a soul fueled by football, the Bears undrafted rookie quarterback knew he belonged at the highest level.
But even the most fervent believers need proof of concept. Belief only gets you so far.
Bagent got that during his four-week odyssey as the Bears' starting quarterback. With starter Justin Fields injured, the rookie out of Division II Shepherd University went 2-2 while throwing for 859 yards, three touchdowns, and six interceptions in five games (four starts).
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It wasn't a perfect audition. Those don't exist in the NFL. Bagent made rookie mistakes and looked overwhelmed at times. He also made a number of impressive throws and showed the Bears and everyone else that he was meant to play in the NFL.
"This is the end-all-be-all, the NFL," Bagent told NBC Sports Chicago, ESPN, and the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday. "There is nothing higher than this. This is the pinnacle of football. I've learned that I do fit in with the best of the best. I had an idea that I did, but I kind of really proved that to myself and, I think, my family members with this experience.
"Kind of just proved to myself what I already I knew. I think I proved a lot to other people but I kind of figured that I was good enough to play at this level but I proved that to a lot of people, family included."
Fields' dislocated right thumb has healed enough to allow him to return Sunday when the Bears visit the Lions in Detroit.
Bagent will slide back into the backup role, one he's infinitely more comfortable in now, after showing the stage isn't too big for him if he's thrust into action.
"It just makes me a lot more comfortable in that number two role," Bagent said of his time as the starter and the transition back. "I think at the beginning, I was comfortable, but just the thought of – you hadn't taken that first snap live against a non-preseason opponent. Now, I just feel that if my number gets called for whatever reason, I'm going to feel a lot more comfortable, and there's no nervousness about getting that first snap or anything like that. It's pretty much all under my belt."
Spending a month as a starter just six weeks into your first NFL season is invaluable early-career experience for Bagent. It should serve him well as he ramps up his development. It also validated the belief inside Halas Hall that they found a long-term piece of their quarterback room -- someone who showed he could be a stable backup option with the potential to become something more.
"We never put ceiling on players, but we certainly like where his floor is because the sky's the limit for everybody," head coach Matt Eberflus said of Bagent. "You never want to do that. Guys can grow into certain spaces that they didn't even think they could. So you have to give them that opportunity, but we certainly like where he is right now."
Bagent's four-start run should help create the roadmap for his quarterback development. Bagent showed growth in a multitude of areas between his NFL debut and his Week 10 start against the Carolina Panthers.
He has cataloged and digested the experience. He now has a greater understanding of everything that goes into being an NFL starting quarterback and how thin the margins are at the pro level.
"Just I think I've realized how important every little detail is," Bagent said. "At first, I wanted to just have a broad idea of what was going on every single play and be able to execute it. But just understanding it so much more than that, just understanding how important every single play is. Learned that in the New Orleans game. You can't play really well for three-and-a-half quarters and then let any plays go. That's probably the biggest thing. Got to be locked in for all 60 minutes."
With Fields set to return Sunday, Bagent will drop back out of the spotlight and continue his work in the NFL shadows. He'll prepare as if he's the starter and do everything he can to help Fields be ready to operate his best on game day.
He'll no longer have a nervous feeling standing on the sideline. There's no longer a need to wonder if the vision he had in his mind would materialize on an NFL gridiron.
He knows that it does. So do his teammates.
"He's a helluva player," wide receiver Darnell Mooney said. "He's going to be back on the field for whoever, wherever. Whatever opportunity comes his way, he's going to be back on the field."
"He's built for this," tight end Cole Kmet said of Bagent. "He's going to be successful in this league. I fully believe that just because of his mindset. He's got the talent and the work ethic, all those things."
Bagent has always known that. Now, everyone else does, too.